Surviving a Writer’s Life

SURVIVING A WRITER’S LIFE is a difficult book to categorize, as it is not quite autobiography, essay, or how-to. Many of the episodes recounted will prove meaningful to writers; others will appeal to survivors of cancer; still others to survivors of rape. Lipsett describes how her experiences of rape and of surviving cancer shaped her career as a writer.

The book jumps from point to point, lingering in some places and skipping large portions of Lipsett’s life; thus, it is not a true autobiography. Lipsett is straightforward about this, discussing early in the book how her life is a “first draft” for her stories. She relates, in this book, the episodes of her life that she believes make good stories. Along the way, readers get a good sense of who she is as a person and as a writer.

As a book for writers, SURVIVING A WRITER’S LIFE is not inspiring. Lipsett recounts her struggles to get her books published, only to have her editor’s assistant fail to recognize her name. She worked for more than two years on one novel before realizing that it would never make a good story. She found her writing stagnating while she made a living as an editor; her voice came to her only after she had survived an initial bout with cancer. Throughout the book, Lipsett tells how she had difficulty connecting with her past. Only after she has finished her book does she discover that the characters who came alive for her on the page are actually members of her family. She eventually does complete her books and get them published, but her life as a writer is certainly not one of celebrity and fortune.

Lipsett’s choices of incidents and emphasis at times appear odd, but the book achieves its apparent multiple goals of discussing writing and creating a fulfilling life even through—or particularly through—adversity. Struggling writers and those simply struggling with life will find that they can empathize with her.